tv Moyers Company PBS January 26, 2014 4:30pm-5:01pm PST
. this week on moyers & company, we conclude our conversation with astrophysicist neil degrasse tyson. >> you have not fully expressed your power as a voter until you have a scientific literacy in topics that matter for future political issues. this requires a level of -- a base level of science literacy that i don't think we have achieved yet >> announcer: funding is provided by anne gummawitz, carnegie, the ford foundation, working with visionary rees on the front change of worldwide, supporting organizations whose
miss is to promote compassion and creativity in our society. the john d. and katherine t. macarthur foundation. park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the kohlberg foundation, and by mutual of america. welcome. for two weeks now the astrophysicist neil degrasse tyson and i have been in pursuit of dark energy. we expect gravity to be slowing down the universe. the opposite is happening. we don't know what is causing it. >> and dark matter. >> we count for one-sixth of the forces of gravity that we see in the universe. there is no known objects
accounting for most of the affected gravity in the universe. something is making stuff move that is not anything we have ever touched. >> up there, heavenly bodies collide creating spectacular displays of fire and light. but down here, the collision of science and religion in the rough and tumble of democracy can create its own fireworks, which brings me to the controversy triggered when he said this in an earlier episode. >> the problem arises is, if you have a religious philosophy that is not based in objective realities, that you then want to put in the science classroom. then i'm going to stand there and say, no, i'm not going to allow you in the science classroom. >> the proverbial alien from outer space must be scratching his bug-eyed head over that one.
why should our most known astrophysicist have to defend the science classroom against religion. two reasons, the number of americans who question the science of evolution has gone up. look at this gallup poll. 46% of the country embraces the notion that god created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. perhaps less surprising, a pew research survey found that t two-thirds of white protestants reject the idea that humans have evolved. so while acceptance has grown, among republicans it's fallen to 43%. that's a huge partisan divide. something else is happening, too. and no one is certain exactly why. our secretary of education, arne duncan, calls it educational
stagnation. consider this. tests that measure critical thinking in science, math, and reading among high school students in different countries show that our students aren't doing so well. in math, students in 33 other countries, including ireland, perfo poland did better than american students. in science, students in 24 other countries were ahead of ours. and in reading, our best subject, kids in 21 countries outdid the americans. the hard truth, says secretary duncan, is that the united states is not among the top-performing co top-performing comparable countries. neil degrasse tyson is the director at new york's director of museum of history and also a
narrator of a new show at the planetarium called "dark universe" and this spring he will be a host of a remake of the classic pbs series "cosmos." you can see it on the national geographic channel and fox tv. welcome. >> thank you. >> let's talk politics for a moment. >> go for it. >> all right. according to the pew research center, back in 2009, a majority of republicans accepted evolution as a fact but now a plurality rejects it. >> in a free elected democracy, of course, you vote who you want on your school board. there is no provision in the constitution for the government to establish what's taught in schools. it's all relegated to the states. hence, we speak state to state about what is in their eye generals textbook versus another. and so that's the country we've all sort of bought into, if you
will, or born into. i think it's a self-correcting phenomena. nobody wants to die. so we all care about health. but above all else, among the republicans i know, especially republicans, nobody wants to die poor. okay? so educated republicans know the value of innovations in science and technology for the thriving of an economy and business and industry. they know this. if you put something that is not science in a science classroom, pass it off as science, then you are undermining an entire enterprise that was responsible for creating the wealth that we have come to take for granted in this country. so, we are already fading economically if that trend continues, some republicans are going to wake up and say, look,
guys, we've got to split these two. we have to. otherwise we will doom ourselves to poverty. i don't know when it will happen but they know. >> what do you think is at stake for democracy? >> oh, no, the democracy will still be here. it's a matter of just voting into office people who don't understand how to make -- how money gets generated. since the industrial revolution and before, we have known the value of innovation and science and technology and its impact on an economy. if that begins to go away, it's a different country. we'll still call ourselves america but we won't lead the world economically and that's a choice we are making as an elected democracy. >> how do you explain that no present day scientist is a household name the way thomas edison or einstein were? what does that suggest to you?
>> if i had to pick, i'd rather they were scientifically literate and didn't know the name of any scientist. because that matters much more. it matters much more that you understand what it means to pull oil out of the ground or the energy content of oil versus wind versus sun versus -- that matters. it matters that you know that an asteroid has our name on it and how it might strike us and how we might deflect it. it matters. it matters what is happening to your health. this requires a level -- a base level of science literacy that i don't think we have achieved yet. you have not fully expressed your power as a voter until you have a scientific literacy in topics that matter for future political issues. >> and that scientific literacy -- >> yes, exactly. a science literacy is an inoculation against -- against
charleston who would exploit your ignorance of scientific law, to take your money from you or your opportunity from you. so the world does respond and follow known laws of physics and chemistry and biology. we understand that. so, yeah, i mean -- so, cosmos, when it comes out, we're not beating you over the head. i'm not saying, learn this or else. it's an offering. it's like, here it is and here's why it matters. here's why your life can be transformed just by having some understanding of this. and then i go home. >> speaking of scientific literacy, i brought along some disturbing statics. as you know, american students are performing poorly on international tests for math and science. in science, we came in just ahead of russia and on a similar
level as italy and portugal. in math, fewer than 9% of our students scored advanced compared to a whopping 55% in shanghai, 40% singapore and more than 16% in canada. >> welcome to the new world. yeah. i mean, okay, there's the fact that you just read. now look at the rising economies in the world, the rising and falling economies. it's going to track those numbers. the beginning of the end of what we thought of as america -- i grew up in an america that had as a priority leading the world in every metric you can assemble for yourself. so this is the writing on the wall. now, why hasn't it happened sooner? because a lot of these numbers have been around for decades. i have a hype othesis. it's not good enough to only be smart at something or to score
high on an exam. at some point you have to step away from the exam and say, i have a new thought that no one has had before and it's not a thought that you told me to regurgitate on this exam that you just wrote because it's a thought that no one has had before. and how do you get those thoughts? you get those in irreverent cultures. possibly that has delayed our collapse because it's out of the environment of not regurgitating what someone else has learned in their lifetime that allows you to make a discovery that no one else has made before. >> you think there are too many tests, we give kids too many tests? >> i think the emphasis on what the meaning of the test is. test people. it's a way to find out what you know. but don't then say if you don't know this, the rest of your life is screwed. no. no. because -- go find people that are successful in this world. find talk show hosts and comedians and novelists and
attorneys. go get the politicians. put them in a room and say, how many of you got straight "a"s throughout school. none of them are going to raise their hands. bill gates dropped out of college. michael dell dropped out of college. those people are not -- the success of those people is not measured by how they performed on the exam that you wrote as a professor. because they are thinking in ways that you have yet to think because they are inventing tomorrow. the only way you can invent tomorrow is if you break out of the enclosure that the school system has provided for you by the exams written by people trained in another generation. >> there's something else, too, isn't there? some people say this educational stagnation that we are experiencing is because we have one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world. they point to the fact that high
poverty schools in america had dismal scores on these tests whereas wealthy schools did well. in blfact, students in a wealth school scored so high that if they were treated as a second jurisdiction they would have placed second only to shanghai in science and reading and would have ranked sixth in the world in math. so inequality matters. >> yes. yeah. and your point is? by the way, my father was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and a lot of my cultural awareness and sensitivities as i'm floating in the universe were anchored by just that kind of awareness. the inequality of -- the unequal distribution of wealth. but that's almost fundamental to a capitalist system. but what you don't want to have happen is to have unequal
access. okay? people will sort themselves out by who works harder and the rest of this. i got that. i even embrace that. but if everyone does not have equal access, you are not getting the best people. your country will falter. >> and that's wherein equality matters? >> because you have disenfranchised the whole community that may have been contributing but no because they never saw the light of the intellectual day. so, yeah, that is bad and it's not the sign of a healthy democracy. it's not even a sign of a healthy capital democracy. being at the top of your game intellectually, philosophically, politically is not a forever thing. i read history, i look at countries that rise up and contribute mightily to eradicating ignorance and to making discoveries about our place in the universe and then by change of force, by change of vision, by change of -- by
short-sided leadership the entire operation collapses. look at islam 1,000 years ago, baghdad was the center of intellectual -- it was the intellectual capital of the world while europe they would disembow arabics. they pioneer the use of these numerals and invented algebra, an algorithm. two-thirds of the stars in the night's sky have arabic names. how did that happen? because they have navigating devices. that culture of discovery ended and has not arisen since. i look at america, post war 20th century america and say, we were at the top of our game investing in science and engineering and education and, yeah, we had our inequalities. we had our problems but as culturally as a nation, we had our vision statement.
we were thinking about our future. we weren't thinking about the now, we were thinking about the tomorrow. that's what the world's fair was. inventing a tomorrow that doesn't yet exist today. when that's how you think about your country and run your country, you have policy that points in that direction. innovative, inventive policy that takes you from the presence into the future. without it, you live in the present and the rest of the world passes you by. you might as well physically have been moving backwards because that's what you look like to the rest of the world. so as a scientist, i don't care who does the work next if it's not america. i want to see good scientific results but as an american, i feel it. i feel the fading of our luster, the fading of our vision
statement as a nation. >> i saw a quote recently by the physicist jonathan hubner who says americans are running out of world-changing inventions. he says, "i think the major branches of discovery are behind us." do you agree with that? >> of course not. i would say this to the man's face. that you can't be more -- that's -- let me be polite. previous statements, such as that, made by physicists of the past have proven to be extremely short-sided. how is that for polite? >> that will do. that will do. >> okay. so that's a physicist. one of these noble prize winning
fis sa cysts, the turn of that century, we were at the top of the physics. newton law was working, electricity was understood but a couple of things, there are still some unknowns but that's a measure of getting decimal place in the measurement. we're done. we're done. just a few clouds on the horizon. we're good to go. don't become a physicist. there's nothing left to discover. what would happen in the last 20 years, special relative would be discovered, all classic physicist would be turned on its ear because of the discoveries in the very two or three decades to follow the uttering of that statement. so of course he can't see the future. that's kind of what it means to not be in the future. half of my library are old books
because i like seeing how people thought about their world at their time. so that i don't get big-headed about something that we just discovered and i could be humble about where we might go next. because you can see who got stuff right and most of the people who got stuff wrong. >> what is the toughest question you would like to answer before you die? >> oh. i hate to sound cliche about this. but my favorite questions are the ones -- dare i use the word -- yet to be divine. because there's a discovery yet to take place that will bring that question into the center of the table. i live for those questions. so that means i can't tell you what they are because they derive from something yet to be discovered. >> dark matter? >> for example, if we discover
what dark matter is, there's going to be some question about dark matter that will rise up out of the ground and say, i never even thought to ask that question. in 1920, no one thought to ask, how fast does the universe accelerate? how fast is the universe expanding? because no one thought the universe was expanding at all. you can't ask questions about the movement of a universe that you don't even know who is in motion. you can't ask questions about other galaxies if you don't even know that there are other galaxies. so on my deathbed i will relish in all the questions that i never asked because it never came up because it was the discoveries of the future that enabled them. >> neil degrasse tyson, thank you for being here. >> it was great to be here. thank you. ♪
the battle never ends and the choices we make in democracy often pit religious or partisan beliefs against scientific evidence that contradicts them and beliefs can be stubborn, hard to give up. they even determine which facts we choose to accept. partisans especially and who among us is sometimes not a partisan will twist the facts to fit their preconceived notions. so when people do stupid things, journalists and politicians included, cherished beliefs are often driving them, sometimes right over the cliff. as people in recovery say, denial is not just the name of a river in egypt and that's what makes it dangerous. right now, two powerful belief systems have converged to counterfacts staring us right in the face. justice is the number of americans who question the science of evolution have gone
up. so, too, have the number who deny that global warming is happening and that human activity is causing it. this, at a time when the global scientific community is more certain than ever that you and i and everyone else are helping to turn up the heat and seal our fate. and here's the scary political reality. on both fronts, evolution and climate change, radical white republicans have made denial a litmus test. you can see it embodied in this man, republican congressman from georgia and withdraw religious beliefs. >> all of that stuff that i was taught about evolution and big bang theory, all of that is lies from straight from the pit of hell and it's lies to keep me and all of the folks who were taught that from understanding
that there can be data that i found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young earth. i don't believe that the earth is 9,000 years old. i believe it was created in six days as we know them. that's what the bible says. >> and when he took on the science of global warming, his fellow republicans in the house of representatives enthusiastically applauded. >> now, we hear all the time about global warming. actually, we've had flat line temperatures globally for the last eight years. scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. it is a hoax. >> not true. simply not true. up to a point we might agree that representative brown's
personal beliefs are his own business, even when he is telling the extremist john birch society that it's a conspiracy to -- and i'm quoting -- destroy america. but remember, this man is chairman of oversight investigations for the science, space, and technology committee of the united states house of representatives passing judgment on public policy and science. god help us. ♪ at our website, billmoyers.com, join new hampshire all to make candidates take a stand on corruption of money in politics. >> if you think about every single important issue america
has to address if you're on the right you care about addressing the deficit. on the left, if you care about climate change or real health care reform, whatever the issue is, if you look at the way our system functions right now, you have to see that there will be no sensible reform, given the way that we fund campaigns. >> that's it. billmoyers.com. i'll see you there and i'll see you here next time. i'll see you there and i'll see you here next time. ♪ -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com don't wait a week to get more moyers. visit billmoyers.com for essays, blogs, and video features. funding is provided by
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next on "kqed newsroom," governor jerry brown touting california's turn-around. >> a budgetary surplus in the billions. in the billions. [ applause ] >> and reaction from around the state as election season heats up. alternatives for getting around town and commuting generating friction. and filmmaker ken burns on why we should all memorize the gettysburg address. >> four score and seven years ago -- >> our fathers brought forth on this continent -- >> a new nation. ♪